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Why can't we all just get along?

Candidates don't agree on whether two cities cooperate enough

ROCK FALLS – One of the candidates for mayor sees a problem; the other does not.

Mayoral candidate Bill Wescott said the Twin Cities of Rock Falls and Sterling are not working together as well as they could be.

Two-term incumbent David Blanton said the perceived rift between the two cities isn't really an issue at all.

Wescott, now the city clerk in Rock Falls, said things would change between the two river cities if he were mayor. Wescott is challenging Blanton for the office on April 9. If elected mayor, Wescott said, he would focus on improving communication between the two cities.

"If I'm elected mayor, there will be meetings with the city of Sterling on a regular basis," Wescott said. "It's not about them taking over Rock Falls; it's not about Rock Falls taking over Sterling, it's about two cities with long histories being right across the river from each other, and it is a sad day that we do not communicate better."

During the joint meetings, leaders would focus on ways to make both cities better places to live, Wescott said.

"Has Sterling been rebuffing us? Have we been rebuffing Sterling?" Wescott asked. "I just don't think that we've sat down and looked at each other across the table and said, 'We just need to talk about this.'"

As far as the mayors of the two towns and councils are concerned, there are no big problems, Blanton said.

"It just seems to be other people who are always trying to get the row going," he said.

Blanton said he is tired of calls for consolidation on every front.

"Why?" he said. "It's working; it's working well," referring to how things operate now between Sterling and Rock Falls.

The most prominent example of cooperation is the sharing of Rock Falls Deputy Fire Chief Gary Cook. Cook also serves as interim chief of the Sterling Fire Department.

But Wescott said that's not the only area where the two can work together.

He believes his city should have contributed toward the cost of banners on the new First Avenue Bridge. Rock Falls had the opportunity to help pay for the decorative banners, but declined to do so.

While campaigning, many residents have asked Wescott why drivers aren't greeted by "Welcome to Rock Falls" banners when driving south across the bridge into Rock Falls.

"Why in the world would it say, 'Welcome to Sterling' coming back?" Wescott said he has been asked. "Apparently we were given an opportunity, from what I've read in the paper; we chose not to or did not, for whatever reason, but simple things like that, I've heard people say 'Are you kidding me? We can't even do that?'

"Well why can't we do that?"

On the campaign trail, 85 percent of the people have asked about communication between the two cities, Wescott said.

"Why don't we work better together as two separate communities?"

If elected, Wescott said, the newspaper would likely have a headline that would read, "We are going to work together."

"We cannot continue to be Rock Falls and Sterling," he said. "We just can't."

Blanton said he is responsible primarily for looking out for the interests of Rock Falls residents; Sterling Mayor Skip Lee does the same for residents in his town.

"Doesn't mean we can't work together," Blanton said. "Doesn't mean we're always going to agree. There's nothing wrong with that.

"I like [the phrase] he took about his wife: 'Me and my wife don't always agree on everything, but, been married a long time.'"

Blanton said the cities can sometimes agree to disagree.

"As far as the communication there, I think it's a lot of fabrication," he said of the perceived disharmony between the two cities.

Blanton said it is important for Rock Falls to cooperate with other cities in the area. As an example, he cited a deal the city reached to sell a piece of equipment to Morrison that city needed.

Wescott, too, said regional cooperation beyond Sterling is "vitally important" for Rock Falls.

"I don't know if we've ever had a Sterling-Rock Falls councils sit down and meet together," he said. "Perhaps historically back in time we did. Or Sterling-Dixon-Rock Falls sitting down and discussing the economy, the area, in one group meeting.

"Communications is the key to any success."

More coverage ahead

This article is part of a series of stories looking at where the Rock Falls mayoral candidates stand on key issues.

Upcoming editions will examine how they propose to attract jobs and how they would meet the city's infrastructure needs.

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